‘Ridiculous’ rule separating partners
A "ridiculous" visa requirement is forcing applicants overseas in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic with no guarantee they can return, despite the government suspending the rule in other cases.
Josh Warner, a 33-year old New Zealander, and his Brazilian girlfriend Jessica, 28, are facing indefinite separation as the government insists she leave the country temporarily for her visa to be granted.
The government waived that requirement for parent visas in January, having bowed to pressure over partner visas in November.
But with it still applying to around 30 visa categories, Josh has begged for a "blanket rule" during the pandemic.
"It's a small change that will make a big difference in the lives of a lot of people who call Australia home," he said.
The Bondi-based couple has been together for two-and-a-half years and, with Josh entitled to live and work in Australia, Jessica has applied for a 461 partner visa.
But he fears she will be endangered by the "dire" COVID-19 situation in Brazil if forced to return home.
The country is grappling with a mutant COVID-19 strain and has suffered over 250,000 deaths since the pandemic began, including Jessica's stepfather.
"The whole reason we're safe is because the borders are closed … Going offshore is the dangerous part. It's pretty crazy over there," Josh said.
"Forcing people who are going to become residents to leave one of the safest countries on earth, just to try to try come back, doesn't make sense on any level."
Returning to Australia would cost the student $10,000 once flights and quarantine were factored in.
To make matters worse, she cannot be granted an exemption to return to Australia until after she has left the country.
"She has to go, get the visa while she's overseas, and then she has to apply for an exemption. So there's absolutely no guarantee that she can even get back here," Josh said.
Jessica would join a backlog of nearly 40,000 people wanting to return Australia, each taking up a quarantine space, at a time international flights had slowed to a trickle because of COVID-19.
"We haven't really spoken about (what happens) if she goes and she can't come back," Josh said.
"That's the thing we're really unsure about; it could be two months it could be a year, we don't know."
Labor MP Julian Hill, who has led the charge against the requirement, said Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could fix the issue with the stroke of a pen.
"Three times the government has announced they will sort this ridiculous rule, forcing people to make risky and expensive trips overseas and wasting precious quarantine places," he said.
"(Former Immigration Minister) Alan Tudge and Alex Hawke have failed to fix this, so the buck stops with Scott Morrison to take responsibility for his government's mess."
Mr Hawke said the government was "actively reviewing the settings for various visas in response to the challenges posed by COVID-19 on an ongoing basis" when announcing the requirement would be suspended for parent visas in January.
But Josh said the Department told the couple "there was no way around" the rule.
When pressed, the Home Affairs Department refused to explain why the logic did not apply to other visas, or how many people remained subject to the requirement.
The issue will be highlighted by a senate inquiry into the family visa program.
Originally published as 'Ridiculous' rule separating partners